from leipzig to hypezig: germany's new creative capital
Looking into the German city's cultural boom.
Eye roll — that's the reaction you get from a lot of people in Leipzig these days when you mention the word "Hypezig." The portmanteau has been making its way around the media for a while now. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The New York Times, and Heute Journal — one of the most-watched news shows in Germany — are all reporting on the hype surrounding this eastern Germany city. This, of course, leads to denial by the people who live there already. When Claus Kleber, who earns more than half a million euros a year for hosting Heute Journal, tells you how amazing it is that fashion designers live in the city, all you can do is roll your eyes. Even if he's right.
The reality is that Leipzig is an astoundingly livable city. One of the people raving about Leipzig is fashion designer Eva Howitz, one half of the fashion brand howitzweissbach. Eve has lived in Leipzig since 2002, when she started studying fashion at the renowned art school Burg Giebichenstein, which is in the neighboring city of Halle. But Halle was too small, too closed-off for her, and so she landed in Leipzig, like many of her schoolmates. One of the few people who commuted from Leipzig while studying was Frieder Weissbach. The two met each other while commuting from home to school and decided to start their own fashion label in 2010, which became howitzweissbach.
"Our first studio in Westwerk was damp, we had rats and no heat, but we did have roof access," Eva Howitz explains. "Freedom to work creatively is still relatively easy to come by in Leipzig." You can still get really pretty spaces without having to work a classic day job to finance them. Many Hypezig articles celebrate old clichés of gentrification, regeneration and "urban renewal": the open spaces, the former factories, the pop-up clubs, the low rents. What's more interesting is whether the freedoms those clichés afford are still relevant in 2016. Apparently some of them are.
"It's just a fact that Leipzig is much cheaper than Hamburg or Munich and if you compare it to foreign cities, it's outrageously cheap," Fabian Schütz explains. Fabian is a musician and singer in various bands in the city. He started the indie label Analogsoul with Andreas Bischoff. They say that Analogsoul is more interested in art than making money, something that is easier in Leipzig. "The hype itself doesn't bother me," sys Andrea Bischof of Analogsoul. "If you look at it closer, it's pretty superficial kind of hype marketing, something that interns at big magazines are in charge of."
But it's always a question of what you compare it to. If you look at the rents, the free spaces, and the possibilities to live with minimum money in relation to cities like London, Paris, or Barcelona, then Leipzig is a paradise. If you compare all that with the Leipzig of 2005, then a lot of things have gotten more expensive, and a lot of spaces are full.
As well, Leipzig is hardly a world metropolis. With just 550,000 residents, it's big enough to be considered a city, but still small enough to have a communal atmosphere. You can get to different parts of the city quickly. Nature is never far away, and you can get to know people quickly. You go to the same concerts, in the same bars as everyone else, you run into each other at art openings and at the big end-of-year shows at the art school. "Obviously, in Berlin you can meet Peaches in a café, but that doesn't mean you get to know her. In Leipzig you get real faster," Eva says.
The music and club scenes are astounding for a city of Leipzig's size though. Kraftwerk just played two sold-out shows there. Moderat's upcoming tour takes in New York, Berlin, London, Paris, and Leipzig. Even people in Berlin are talking about the clubs there now, like the relatively new Institut für Zukunft, but if you compare it to Berghain, you'll get another eye roll.
In general, though, the club culture in Leipzig is good. The Distillery — or "Tille" as locals refer to it — has been around for 20 years, and has been consistently booking great DJs. Then there's Elipamanoke and Dr. Seltsam, which is a bike shop by day and becomes something between a club and a bar at night. Ost-Apotheke has breathed new life into the rundown eastern part of the city (Goldhorn, which was at least just as good, closed over New Year's — but that's all part of it). There are lots of places to go dancing. And the excess supply of clubs has created a house and techno scene that's been internationally recognised for a while now.
Leipzig has been in a period continuous change for more than 20 years now, in a way unmatched by almost any other German city. The city's population has grown by more than 50,000 people over the last five years alone. Indeed, 2015 was the first year since the Wall came down that more people moved from Berlin to Leipzig then the other way around. Even if they are still comparatively cheap, rents are going up. Gentrification is in the air.
Plagwitz, the former industrial district on the Karl-Heine-Kanal has become a hipster stronghold. The studios in the world-famous cotton mill are full of artists, whilst other former industrial complexes are being converted into lofts with canal views and are being bought and sold by real estate speculators for prices that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
This obviously doesn't make things easier for howitzweissbach or Analogsoul. But even if this sounds heretical, gentrification isn't all bad. "It's insane, of course, how many people are moving to Leipzig, but I can understand people who want to live here," Eva says. "And many of the people moving here bring with them something that makes Leipzig a great place to live." Fear of change is something rare among people in Leipzig. "There's an abundance of space," Fabian says. Andreas adds, "In the 30s, more than 700,000 people lived here. So you don't even notice a few more tens of thousands more. I don't know of many cities where you can get out of people's way so easily."
Unmployment is the main problem in Leipzig. Jobs are hard to find and salaries are low. The tourism and real estate industries are profiting from the creative scene, but they aren't giving a lot back. There could be more institutions and public funds to support creative work. "Something only happens here," explains Eva, "If you make something happen."
More and more people though, are making something happen, and despite the skepticism, most people are in agreement that Lei[zig is profiting from the current hype. The city is becoming more international and cosmopolitan. The visual art scene is growing, and it's cross-pollinating. "In Leipzig everyone is working out how to survive and so you meet each other and work out how to survive together," Eva says.
Leipzig started via word-of-mouth, and though Hypezig might be being fed by the press, if you really know the city, all you can do is rave about it.
Text Ayke Süthoff